Fun Test at School: Get Your Healthy Lunch from the Food Truck

You might think it’s a mission impossible marketing challenge to get high school students excited about, and actually eating, healthier school lunches.

Perhaps not.  A Colorado high school nutrition team, facing an 80% non-dining rate, has come up with a creative, disruptive action plan.  

Photo: iStock.

Photo: iStock.

Last week,  the Boulder Valley School District agreed to accept a $75,000 donation from Whole Foods to acquire a used food truck and create their own healthy eating food truck program.

It’s smart marketing for two, key reasons:

1. Displays keen insight into the mind of the customer (the students):  it’s not always cool or desirable to eat in the cafeteria!

2.  Solves a challenging dilemma by thinking differently and creatively changing the eating conversation:  a food truck provides a whole new distribution channel to engage the students.  Walking out to the food truck provides a fun experience, especially for 15 to 18-year-old high schoolers.

The food truck has been spearheaded by Chef Ann Cooper, a “celebrated author, chef, educator, and enduring advocate for better food for all children.”  She’s also Boulder Valley’s current Director of Nutrition Services.

“It really fits in with our healthy eating program.  I’m really, really excited about it.  It showcases what we do and will promote the school lunch program to the community,” Cooper told the local Daily Camera newspaper.

Similar food truck programs have been implemented in Florida, Connecticut and Indiana.

Cooper is developing the food truck menu, and highlighted some ideas in her newspaper interview:  “possible items include quesadillas with ingredients such as ancho chicken; a bacon, lettuce and tomato grilled-cheese sandwich; and hamburgers grilled on a charbroiler — they’re baked in school.”

You may be wondering:  why not just let commercial food trucks pull-up and sell lunches each day?

First, typical food truck fare may not conform to the school’s nutrition guidelines.  In Chef Cooper’s initiative, the school district retains control of the food products to be served.  The idea is to deliver better-for-you food offerings consistent with the school district’s nutrition plan, but in a way that will attract the students to consume.

For example, check out this “before and after” hamburger platter depicted in one of Chef Cooper’s presentation charts:

Photo: from presentation: Lunch Lessons: Changing the Way We Feed Our Children. Ann Cooper, BVSD Director of Food Services.

Photo: from presentation: Lunch Lessons: Changing the Way We Feed Our Children. Ann Cooper, BVSD Director of Food Services.

Second, even if the commercial food trucks served the type of food desired by the school districts, there may be some regulatory hurdles.  Quick research indicates that, in some geographies,  school policies and/or local ordinances restrict commercial food trucks from operating on school grounds.

I asked Barbara Ruhs, a registered dietitian, nutrition expert and former Corporate Supermarket Dietitian at Bashas’ Family of Stores, for her take on the Colorado program:

“I think this is a fantastic idea!  Food trucks are very trendy and often times, high school kids want to be outside of the cafeteria to hang out.  A food truck is a unique solution that may have a lot of merits — I think it’s possible to conform to the school lunch standards established by USDA and use a food truck to offer reimbursable meals.”

Looking forward, Ruhs added:  “My hope is that once these items [food truck menu] are developed and tested, that Boulder will share this information with other schools to possibly duplicate.”


A Colorado school district is using creative marketing to address the tough problem of getting students to eat healthier lunches:  provide their own food truck packed with desired choices in a healthy format.

Harvey Chimoff is a hands-on marketing leader and business-wide collaborator who drives success in B2B/B2C organizations.

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